Saturday, March 19, 2011

Me and Mama Turkey

Here's a bit of turkey trivia you may not know - mama turkeys rarely leave their nest once they begin laying on the eggs. I learned this on "Work Day" one spring. We have a fun group of friends who once or twice a year take turns at each other's homes working together during the day, then enjoying a big potluck dinner at night. It's sort of like the old fashioned barn raising, and I'm here to tell you - it's an amazing thing. Everyone should do this. You have a lot of fun, and get a lot done. Somehow 8-10 people seem to accomplish as much in one afternoon as it would normally take twenty.

On this particular Work Day, one of the projects involved rebuilding a retaining wall. The guys had just gotten started when I heard them calling my name from the other side of the yard. "We have a bit of a problem," they said when I got over there, pointing at the brush on the far side of the wall. I stepped closer to have a look. A turkey!! It was a female turkey laying on a nest. Great. The one opportunity to take care of the crumbling wall and there's a turkey in the way.

After a few moments deliberation, it was decided that they would continue the work, but remain a comfortable distance away. We could just finish the end of the wall at some future date. I checked on Mama Turkey from time to time, and was surprised to see that she remained on the nest throughout the day, despite the fact that they were making quite a racket.

They actually got closer to her than I wanted, but she stayed where she was so I let them continue. That evening I did some research on the Internet, and read that the female turkeys are most vulnerable to predators while sitting on the eggs. Gee... ya think??? We could have just reached over and picked her up!  I admired her dedication, but think a smarter plan would have been to fly up into the tree and keep an eye on the nest from a safe distance.

So Mama Turkey made it through the day amidst all the hammering and building. Then, late that evening it began to rain. Hard. The steady plip plop of raindrops gained momentum until soon a full fledged monsoon was roaring outside. In my nice warm, dry house I began to worry about Mama Turkey. Poor thing. She was out there getting drenched. And it was chilly. Guilt set in.

See, another of our Work Day projects had involved doing some clearing on the hill below the retaining wall. We discovered several moments too late that one of the lanky "weeds" was actually providing shelter for Mama Turkey and her eggs. After one of our group cut it down, we realized that now the nest and turkey were much more out in the open than they had been. Hence, my guilt.

Suddenly I had a eureka moment. A-HA! I ran out in the pouring rain and grabbed the patio umbrella and propped it against the fence on the other side of the nest. Perfect. It could lean against the fence and provide shelter for the nest there on the other side. And if the wind picked up, it would just fall sideways, not on the nest. Mama Turkey wasn't there, but I saw 3 eggs in the nest. I ran back into the house, wet but pleased with myself and my good deed. Or act of reparation, rather. I checked on the nest once more that evening. Mama Turkey was back, nice and dry under the patio umbrella.

The next morning, the sun was shining bright on all the trees and shrubs dripping from the previous night's soaking. I eagerly ran outside to check on Mama Turkey, but stopped in my tracks as soon as I rounded the corner. All I could see of the large patio umbrella was the post and hand crank sticking up into the air. The umbrella had somehow gone OVER the fence. AAAAAAAA!!!!! I hurried over to the nest, dreading what I would find. Mama Turkey impaled on the point of the umbrella??? But no, thank heavens. The point of the umbrella had stopped a good 18 inches above the nest. But she was gone, and only one egg was left in the nest. She never came back, and by the next morning, the remaining egg was gone as well.


There's probably a moral to this story. Resist the urge to "help" wildlife? Avoid doing yard work? Fortunately for my conscience, the turkey population seems to be reproducing just fine, despite my misguided - if well intentioned - efforts to help.


  1. Oh my goodness! We learn something new today..
    Benny & Lily

  2. Lovely picture of parent and baby :-)

  3. Great story -- and a great picture!